Friday, September 26, 2014

What do kids, Cat scans and toilet bowls have in common?

It's been a busy week.  Who am I kidding?  They are all busy weeks.  During the school year I think the summer is going to be full of lounging around, lazy days.  Instead, I find us with full and busy summer days (when we are not on the road traveling.)  During the school year, I figure once I *settle into a routine* life will fall into a rhythm.  And it does.  A crazy double time kind of rhythm.  To be honest, I like it that way.  I kind of love frantically running from one thing to another.  If I'm home for more than an hour, I feel like I have to clean something, so I try to not be home as much as I can.  (Except I like to clean toilets.  That's weird, right?  I find delight in squirting that think blue liquid in the bowl and imagine the germs losing as I scrub with that brush.  It's my favorite!)

I spent time in each of my kids' classrooms this week.  Next to cleaning toilets (ha!) this is my favorite.  Actually, classroom time nudges out the toilet cleaning.  I don't actually contribute that much to the betterment of the kids' education, but I get to be around the kids and experience and smile and encourage and hug.  I get the blessing.  My kids light up when they hear it is "their day "for me to be in their classroom.  I know it won't always be that way, so I soak it up for now.

This week I had extra on my plate.  It was my bi-annual CT scan/blood test on Monday and the follow up appointment with my oncologist's PA.  I will assure you, cleaning toilets beats Cat scans and *internal* exams any day!

I arrived at the hospital Monday afternoon ready to spend a chunk of time waiting, drinking dye and getting poked with needles.  I am familiar with the routine.  No surprises.  Except the small panic attack I  had as I parked the van.  A few deep breaths and I pressed on.  When am I going to get over that one?  In my mind I knew all was well.  I feel great.  I hadn't even been nervous.  But as I pulled the van into the garage, just like that, my chest tightened up and my breathing was strained.  My head and my heart know one thing but my body won't always cooperate. 

As I laid down on the metal table, snuggled in with a warm blanket and a pillow under my knees- the nurse shot the contrast into my IV.  The weird taste hit soon and then the warmth of the contrast rushed through my veins.  It is weird but definitely not painful.  The panic was gone and was replaced with an  feeling of thankfulness.

I live in a country with top notch medical care.  Machines that can take pictures of my insides to make sure there is nothing growing.  A God who is Great and Good and Gracious.  Medicine that has killed the cancer.  Insurance to pay for all of it.  A healthy body to clean toilets, love kids and rush from one thing to another.  I received the all clear for another 6 months . There is so much to be thankful for.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

In the blink of an eye

Three years ago today I received a call in the morning from the hospital.  I needed to make some decisions for my dad since he was unresponsive and the doctors were concluding there was nothing left medically to do.  "I'll leave now and be there in three hours."

Steve was able to stay home with Olivia (then 5) and Quinn and Turner (3 at the time.)  I kissed them goodbye, choked back a tear, hugged Steve and climbed into the red Corolla that my Dad had driven and would now belong to us.

It's a scary thing, getting into a car alone, heading up the road for a 2 1/2 hour car ride knowing on the other side you will face doctors and tell them what you think they should do to make your dad the most comfortable for him to pass away.

I got to his room, where he had been for about 10 days; some of which had also been spent in the ICU.  He pulled out of that one about three days before this September 20th trip.  In those 10 days I desperately wanted to spend every moment with him.  He was alone.  No family, no friends to visit him.  Just me- 2 1/2 hours down the road.  We invited him, no, begged him to move to Dayton to be near us after my mom died and I began my chemotherapy for Stage III Ovarian cancer.  But he was born and raised in Toledo, OH and that is where he would die.

He was sleeping.  His arms puffy, his breath shallow.  I kissed him on the cheek and let him know I was there.  I told him a kid story or two.  After about 30 minutes he opened his eyes.  They twinkled a touch and let me know he knew I was there.  For real.  My mind was not just making it up.  I held his hand and he gave a faint squeeze. 

Earlier in the week while he was still able to speak yet unable to move his puffy, fluid filled arms, he told me, "I'm not going home this time, Babe."  If you've never heard someone say those words or something similar, let me tell you... I hope you never have to hear them.  It seemed like a lie to say, "Sure you will, Dad."  Because it was obvious.  Even if he rallied, he would have to go to a rehab center or something more permanent.  Heart breaking doesn't even describe those words.

Soon after he closed his eyes again, a female doctor came in to talk with me about "my dad's wishes for end of life care."  (I'm pretty sure she was visibly shaken by my own bald head.  I had finished chemo treatments a short 2 1/2 months before this day in September and barely had a covering of peach fuzz.)  I must have been an amazingly pathetic sight.

My dad's wishes for end of life care?  We had never talked about these things.  You think we would have.  After my mom's death.  My illness.  His illness and nearly 2 weeks in the hospital.  But no, he would not talk about these things.  So, it had to be my best guess. 

I suppose he would want to be comfortable.  No machines.  No heroic efforts.  He would want me.  I would stay with him, until the end. 

So they moved him to a different floor.  A floor people go to die.  I carried a bag with his belongings.  Pants.  A belt.  His goofy big brown shoes.  His black wallet that I  had undoubtedly gotten him years past for his birthday, Father's Day or some other gift giving holiday.  It seemed to be about as old as he was. 

They "settled" him into the room.  There was no telling how long we would be there.  The kind nurse showed me how to pull out the chair into a bed.  She showed me a shower down the hall.  They would bring me dinner, if I felt like eating.  It had been hours since I had, but I was pretty sure I wasn't going to eat.  It was about 2:00 in the afternoon.  I called Steve and told him what was happening.  I texted my best friends to ask for prayer.  Strength and courage is what I would need the most of.

It's super scary being in a room with your dad like that.  It's just the two of you.  It's for the last time.  I wanted to  make sure I told him all I had to tell him.  I held his hand.  Combed his hair.  Told him stories.  I reminisced.  I thanked him for every single thing I could remember to thank him for.  I reminded him again of how much Jesus loved him and all about what Jesus had done for him on the cross.  I told him before, but it felt really good to tell him again.  Even if it was just to remind myself. 

At 4:00 pm, I called my Aunt who was on her way to Ohio to be with us.  She was a day or so away.  I was telling her the details of the day.  I turned to look out the window and cry for a moment with her.  I turned back around and realized I no longer heard my dad struggling for breath.  It was just the hum of the machine.  I ran over to him.  He must have just left.  I hugged him, held his hand and kissed him for the final time on the cheek.  I went to get the nurse.  She confirmed what I already knew. 

At 4:10, she made it official.

At 4:20, one of  my best friends, Sarah, walked through the door.   Steve had called her and she offered to drive down from Ann Arbor, MI to be with me.  They agreed, I should not be alone.  She sat with  me for several hours and hugged me, cried with me and prayed with me until I was ready to get back in my Dad's Corolla and drive back to Dayton.  The whole family would return with me the next day to take care of business.

September 20, 2011- 3 years ago- is a day that is burnt into my memory.  It is special and horrifying at the same time.  God got me through.  He gets me through each day.  There is hope in this story.  There is love and beauty in this story.  It is my story that I don't ever want to forget yet desperately wish I could all at the same time.  A sad chapter that I would re-write if I could but insist on writing down so I don't forget.  Jerry Printki, you are not forgotten.  A blink of an eye.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Beauty in the eye of the beholder

The kids have been back in school a solid three weeks now.  Olivia is in third grade and at our Public Montessori school, that makes her top dog in her classroom.  (Montessori is an educational philosophy that among many other things, includes the integration of multi-grades per classroom.)  For example instead of 1st grade classrooms, 2nd grade class rooms etc.  we have levels.  The 6-9 level means that ages 6-9 years of age are in a classroom together.  (*Normal people* would say 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders are grouped together in the same classrooms.)  In turn, that means kids will have the same teacher (and some classmates) for three years.

Since Olivia is in 3rd grade, she has been in the same room, with the same teachers and most of the same kids going on three years .  The 3rd graders serve as "mentors" to the younger students.  I love most things about this philosophy.  Along with all philosophies, however, there are some very big downsides.  For now, it is working and I am very happy with what we have experienced.  The boys are both 1st graders (6 year olds) which makes them both little fish in the big pond.  Again, a good thing for them to experience.

Perhaps even more than the Montessori aspect of our school, I LOVE the cultural diversity my kids are gaining.  (Honestly, the multi-cultural atmosphere of our school and the Montessori nature go hand in hand.  As does the heart of Jesus... therefore, its a win/win/win in my mind.)

Here is a snapshot of my kids' day that has me nearly overwhelmed.  I can almost feel my head and heart ready to explode.

I volunteered for two hours in Turner's class this morning and I interacted with kids who are: from Nepal, Iraq, Turkey, Congo, adopted, poor, middle class, white and African-American.  I thought about the way that Turner will see the world differently because of his friends; for better and for worse.  I'm jealous of his education.  Not a traditional education in any sense of the word.

When I picked the kids up from school the first thing Olivia told me about was the new boy who joined her class today.  She gushed.  She exploded with excitement as she told me about him.  "He's from Somalia and he's only been in the United States for two weeks.  He doesn't speak any English and he's never been to school before.  By the end of the day he learned to say my name!"

I've been processing this for the past several hours.  There is a lot here for me.  So many emotions.  Most of them overwhelmingly positive.  Perhaps at the top of the list, privilege.  Both the positive and negative kind.  What a privilege to welcome this family to the U.S., Dayton and our school.  I can't think of a better place for him to be as a newcomer to Dayton, OH  than at our school and in Mrs. Taylor's classroom.  With my sweet and caring daughter as a friend.  I am overwhelmed with the reminder of the privilege it is to live in America.  People flee their countries every day to come here.  For a chance.  For a million other reasons I will never comprehend.  I was born here.  Two of my three kids were born here.  No choice, just grace.  Its not perfect...but man oh man...

Dayton Public Schools get a bad rap.  I hear a lot of "We used to live in Dayton but we moved out because of the schools" or "Wow.  Your kids go to Dayton Public?  Do you think you'll move?"  Maybe someday.  You never know.  Never say never.  Not this year.  It's a mixed bag.

So, people may think we are crazy.  They may judge us, maybe even think we are robbing our children of a better future- a better education.  In my opinion, our school is beautiful.  My kids are getting an opportunity of a lifetime. 

And so am I.